An ACL injury is an over-stretching or tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee. The ACL joins the femur, or upper leg bone, to the tibia, or lower leg bone, and helps to keep the knee stable.
Injuries to the ligament inside the knee joint most commonly occur during sports or athletic events as a result of quick directional changes, pivots or landing awkwardly during a fall. Treatment is necessary to avoid the bones rubbing up against each other, which can lead to further knee joint damage and osteoarthritis.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, promptly seek the advice of a qualified medical professional.
Women 10 Times More Likely to Experience ACL Issues
Although medical science has yet to determine exactly why, women suffer this type of injury significantly more often than men.
This increased risk likely has a bit to do with the anatomy of the female knee, which has a decreased capacity for free movement of the ligament. This means the ACL is more likely to become pinched, especially during hyperextension and twisting motions. Women also have a lower ratio of muscle strength to bone size than men, but when working out or playing sports, the amount of stress placed on the ligaments is the same for both sexes.
Finally, female hormones are also at play in this increased level of risk. A woman’s hormones create a greater level of flexibility and looseness in muscles, tendons and ligaments. If the knee muscles are too loose, they may be unable to absorb stress properly, placing extra strain on the ACL and increasing the risk of injury.
Warning Sign 1: A Loud Pop at the Time of Injury
When an ACL injury occurs, the ligament often makes a distinct popping sound. This pop can be surprisingly loud, and bystanders often report hearing it.
Although it is not uncommon for athletes and physically active women to experience cracking or grinding in the knee joints, the sound made by an ACL tear is quite distinctive and unmistakably different from everyday joint creaks.
As this sound generally indicates a ligament tear, don’t ignore this symptom if it happens to you!
Warning Sign 2: Sudden Instability in the Knee
Sometimes an ACL injury makes no discernable noise. If, however, your knee suddenly gives out, take heed.
The ACL is crucial to stabilizing the knee joint. If your knee suddenly buckles during a hard stop or pivot while playing high-impact sports, don’t ignore the problem, even if your knee returns to normal. The knee joint is likely to continue giving out, and each time will increase in severity.
Any instability in the knee merits medical attention. Left untreated, an injury to the ligament can develop into a chronic ACL deficiency. When this happens, the ligament is unable to control and support knee movement. Increasing weakness and further damage can result without proper treatment.
Warning Sign 3: Swelling and Pain
When the ACL is overstretched or torn, swelling and pain are sure to follow.
The pain, generally located on the outside and back of the knee, can be severe, particularly when walking and trying to bear weight on the injured leg. The knee joint also typically swells within a few hours of the injury.
With some instances of ACL injury, extreme swelling can manifest within minutes. This is typically a sign of a hemarthrosis, or bleeding in the knee joint. A blood vessel runs through the anterior cruciate ligament, and when this is damaged, the space around the joint can fill with blood, giving it an inflamed appearance. This fluid must be drained by a doctor or surgeon before the ACL injury can be treated.
The goals of treatment for any orthopedic or sports injury are to reduce or eliminate pain and swelling, and restore or improve mobility and range of motion. If you have experienced these or other symptoms, seek medical attention before any further damage can occur.
Schedule an appointment with one of the Steward Health Care: Orthopedics & Sports Medicine physicians to evaluate your ACL injury and discuss potential treatment options.